City Hall

Some Dallas Residents Oppose Sobering Center, Other Plans for Sites to Help the Homeless Population

At Monday's Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee, City Council member Jesse Moreno said he continues to get complaints about the homeless in the Central Business District.
At Monday's Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee, City Council member Jesse Moreno said he continues to get complaints about the homeless in the Central Business District. Jacob Vaughn
Dallas County and the city want to transform three properties into places that can serve “our most vulnerable population,” Christine Crossley said, meaning homeless residents. But some residents living near the properties aren't so pleased with the plan.

On Monday, Crossley, the director of the Office of Homeless Solutions, shared possible plans for the three properties with the Dallas Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee. Some of the proposed plans for three properties – 2929 S. Hampton Road, 4150 Independence Drive and 12000 Greenville Avenue – have become hot-button issues to surrounding residents, and subsequently, their council members.

One of the potential uses for the Hampton Road property has stirred up controversy among some residents in District 3 and 4. The plan, as detailed by Crossley, included room for a “sobering center.”

Crossley said the potential uses for these properties will “of course be finalized through engagement with the local community.”

Casey Thomas, District 3’s City Council member, said to Crossley and Deputy City Manager Kimberly Bizor Tolbert, “I want to emphasize, these are potential or suggested uses at each of these locations, correct? Nothing has been determined?” That was correct.

Thomas said he and others on the committee received emails over the weekend from residents concerned about what each site was going to be used for. Many of those emails were likely about the proposed sobering center, which seemingly no one in the community asked for or knew about. The plan for 12000 Greenville Avenue, a property in the northern part of the city, seemed to be less extensive, helping “our most vulnerable” in a more abstract way.

Some residents and committee members took issue with it all.

Crossley said an annual census of the homeless population found that on any given night there are 4,410 people living on the street in Dallas and Collin counties, “representing the lowest count since 2019.”

“While the disruption of homeless services resulting from the pandemic and winter weather impacted the count this year, these trends are a direct result of the community’s commitment to scaling proven housing interventions,” Crossley said. “The rate at which people exit to permanent housing is at an all time high and we have three times more capacity to rapidly rehouse people than we did in 2019. That said, we know that there is a dramatic need for more supportive services, including that of affordable and supportive housing.”

“So, communities [around] the Hampton Road facility have said they would choose to have a sobering center at the Hampton Road facility and RIGHT Care?” – Chad West, City Council

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The city partnered with the county to help fill those needs at the three properties; 2929 S. Hampton Road, the site of a former hospital, and 4150 Independence Drive, a former hotel, were approved for purchase by the City Council earlier this year.

On March 29, there was a town hall regarding the Hampton Road property. Now, a group is being put together to work on the project and determine the best use for the property. Crossley said they want to start looking for potential bidders in September, hoping the council will approve the project in early 2023. The Independence Drive property will move forward on roughly the same timeline, while the scope of the 12000 Greenville Avenue property will be determined in September. 

Dallas County is also throwing in funds it got from the American Rescue Plan Act to help pay for the projects.

The Hampton Road property is 12 acres with 140 units, two additional buildings, and space for new affordable housing. It also has 16,000 square feet of office space and 9,000 square feet of educational office space. The project will cost about $6 million, with some of that money coming from bond funds. Crossley said they’re considering the property for workforce and job training, healthy cooking and nutrition, financial education, affordable and supportive housing, medical respite, hospice care, with additional space for a sobering center and Dallas' RIGHT Care team. 

The Independence Drive property has 108 units. Crossley said it could be used for workforce and job training, financial education, affordable and supportive housing, and violence interrupters. This project will cost about $5 million. The city would work on community outreach and provide the services through local partnerships.

The county would be throwing in $10 million to redevelop the Hampton Road and Independence Drive properties. All of this is on the condition that the city sells the 12000 Greenville Avenue property to Dallas County.

The plans for that property are a little more vague than the others. That site will “provide opportunities to aid people in distress through compassionate care, establishing a sustainable pathway to healing for the most vulnerable segment of our population,” Crossley’s presentation explained.

Crossley said there have been a couple projects proposed for this site, but “none have worked out.”

The county will take over the Greenville Avenue property and manage the project from there. “This project must serve the public use to qualify for the city’s deed transfer, which is defined in this instance as serving the community interest as identified through the local engagement to serve the most vulnerable segment of our population,” Crossley said.

“This includes those that are unsheltered, but does not bar those who need similar help but are precariously housed through seeking assistance," Crossley added. "Through this approach, the site will address the drivers of poverty I mentioned, helping to stem those issues that cause homelessness before it occurs.”

This seemed to rub some committee and council members in attendance the wrong way.

Committee member and council person Cara Mendelsohn said that in June 2020, the City Council and staff agreed that every district would have a homeless facility.

“In your presentation today, you added a new phrase, a phrase I hadn’t heard you say before, which is that we would have a homeless facility or something that addresses drivers of poverty,” Mendelsohn told Crossley. “That is not what our agreement was. If this Greenville Avenue property would address the drivers of poverty, that may be one thing, but I still want to know: Where in District 10 would there actually be a homeless facility?”

Crossley said it wasn’t an and/or situation. They just needed to get more comments from the community before saying what specifically they wanted to do with the Greenville property.

“Well, the beginning place for community input in my district, as well as others, has been, ‘We will have a homeless facility. Now, let’s talk about what it can be and how you can be part of it,’” Mendelsohn explained. “The substance seems to be, in District 10, ‘What do we want to do for people who are poor so that we don’t have a homeless shelter.’ That is completely unacceptable. We are in desperate need of emergency shelter, transitional shelter, permanent and supportive housing and affordable housing.”

With the site clear of adjacent single family neighborhoods, Mendelsohn said it’s a perfect place for emergency or affordable housing. She said, “The community, frankly, it seems they have been misled by having missed the really important crux of the conversation, which is, ‘You will have some kind of homeless facility.’”

She said she wouldn’t support the Greenville Avenue project unless it included inpatient mental health services, emergency or transitional shelter, permanent or supportive housing, or affordable housing at for people making 50% of the area median income or less.

Council member Chad West pointed out the differences in the proposed plans for each site. When it came to the Hampton Road and Independence Drive properties, the uses were concrete and specific, even though they may be changed through additional community input. When it came to the Greenville Avenue property, West said, “It sounds like, to me, like we’re doing yoga and meditation." He reread the details for the Greenville Avenue property.  

“The substance seems to be, in District 10, ‘What do we want to do for people who are poor so that we don’t have a homeless shelter.’" – Cara Mendelsohn, City Council

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“‘We’re providing opportunities to aid people in distress through compassionate care, establishing a sustainable pathway to healing for the most vulnerable segment of our population,’” West said. “Then, you caveat that … by saying, ‘The projects must be reflective of the public use, serving the community interests as identified by local engagement.’ That’s a step beyond what you’ve said for the other two sites.”

From the outside, it looks like a continuation of the north-south divide in Dallas.

“If you’re a community member just looking at this for the first time, it looks like you’re sending all the problem stuff, the really needy uses, to the south, and you’re letting whatever the county decides the community up there wants and is going to be willing to take in District 10 to be put on their side,” West said. “That’s the impression I get from this presentation.”

Crossley said what they presented is the result of what they’ve heard from each community.

“So, communities [around] the Hampton Road facility have said they would choose to have a sobering center at the Hampton Road facility and RIGHT Care?” West asked.

“We’ve gotten a hundred emails to say they don’t want it,” someone else at the meeting could be heard saying.

Crossley said no one in the community asked for the sobering center, that each property can be used for different purposes, that these were just some of their ideas and that they still needed to be approved by the community.

Council member Carolyn King Arnold said she originally voted against the Hampton Road project. It is in District 3 but borders her District 4. Arnold said the pushback might look like "NIMBYism," but it’s not. She said the communities just want a voice when it comes to what goes in their backyard. To Arnold, the community is saying, “We don’t want to be an afterthought.”

“I have to express the message given by the folks that hired me,” Arnold said. She said that she suggested a person for the group that would help determine the use for each property. If staff already have their own plans, Arnold said, she’s not sure what the group is supposed to be doing.

But staff maintained that these were just their ideas and that there will be more community input. “We try to come to you with some ideas and some examples,” Tolbert said. “That’s really what you see.”

Tolbert said they’ve met with District 3 residents and plan to do so even more.

“I’m just going to tell you what I’m getting from the community,” Arnold said, preparing to read feedback she got from a resident. The resident who wrote Arnold said they think homelessness in the Central Business District should be tackled first.

“Staff is lost,” the resident wrote. “I would ask that you propose staff take a pause on all proposed homeless centers outside of the [Central Business District] for 18 months, get the [Central Business District] under control, then start additional homeless centers outside of the [Central Business District]. Let’s not use the words potential or suggested because it appears you are already in motion.”

Community listening sessions regarding the plans for these properties are set through June 8. 
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn